The lands beyond Google (Riposte 3)

But the older I get, the more I treasure the sprawling periods of incomprehension, the not knowing, the lands beyond Google, the places in which you must be immersed to comprehend.

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, from “Pardon My French: In Incomprehension and Slow Understanding, Imagination Can Return” (The Atlantic, June 2013)

Is the universe friendly?

Work is easing out. I’m able to ride my bike after school on nice days, like yesterday. A big rainstorm hit, so I got off the trail at a campground and bivouacked under a large picnic shelter.

After the storm

“Is the universe friendly?” I must add Einstein’s question to my inquiry-based learning approach. To be a good Big Question, it can’t be silenced by a simple yes or no. If it can, it’s not your question. If you can answer it, but you start with, “It’s complicated,” that’s okay, I think. Then what you learn refines your answer or teaches you how to share it.


Michael asked us Einstein’s question last week. The blurt-outs were about half yes and half no. I wonder if anyone persuaded anyone else. I don’t think you can move from yes to no, or no to yes, without making it, or something like it, your Big Question for a spell.

The conversation reminded me of my “everything” verses from Romans and 1 Corinthians. The latter:

For everything belongs to you — Paul, Apollos, and Cephas, the world, life, and death, the present and the future, all are yours — and you belong to Christ, and Christ to God. (REB)

Death is mine! It’s another way of asking the same question.


Riposte 2

“The characteristic of a man when he is awake is never that he is calculating and sensible. Today  we are so afraid of poverty that we never dream of doing anything that might involve us in being poor.”

– Oswald Chambers (from Shade of His Hand)

“As we talked, [South African businessman Andile Ngcaba’s sixteen-year-old son, who had been touring U.S. colleges] told me he met a person at a school who kept talking about how graduates get jobs. ‘And I thought, What is this obsession with getting a job? You make a job!'”

– Baratunde Thurston (June 2013 issue of Fast Company)


Many a deep glance, and often with unspeakable precision, has [Teufelsdrockh] cast into mysterious Nature, and the still more mysterious Life of Man. . . . Often after some such feat, he will play truant for long pages, and go dawdling and dreaming, and mumbling and meandering the merest commonplaces, as if he were asleep with eyes open, which indeed he is.

Sartor Resartus, Book 1, Chapter IV

But [Nate] Silver adds a crucial caveat: The flood of data means more noise (i.e., useless information) but not necessarily more signal (i.e., truth).

Fast Company (June 2013 print edition)


Today’s Washington Nationals game — the first Victoria and I have attended — was a taut affair until the fifth inning, when Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s bad throw pulled first baseman Adam LaRoche off the bag and allowed the Chicago Cubs’ batter to reach first.


The pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, who was jogging to the dugout after what he assumed was the third out, saw the error and dragged himself back to the mound. The Cubs scored four unearned runs that inning after what should have been the third out, breaking a scoreless tie.

Zimmerman had lots of time. He even pumped the ball once in his glove. Zimmerman makes almost all the tough plays, but his recent shoulder surgery, or the injury it was performed to correct, or his body’s or his psyche’s adjustment to the injury or the surgery, makes him mess up a lot more of the easy plays than this former Golden Glove winner did before he was hurt last year.


Today’s game mirrored the Nats’ April 16 unfolding against the Florida Marlins. The Cubs and Marlins were in their respective divisions’ cellars when they played the Nats, but both beat the Nats 8 to 2. Both the Cubs and the Marlins scored four unearned runs courtesy of Zimmerman errors. But Dan Haren, not Strasburg, pitched the Miami game.

I love the sports page. I keep up with a few of the local teams even though I never go to their games or, with the exception of the Nats, even watch them on television. Sports gives me a way to project my own struggles onto a clean surface, one that gets erased every game and even more every season, though some struggles can keep a player from reaching her full potential over a career and a team from reaching its potential over a generation. My favorite sportswriters educate me about the game in question, but they also touch on loyalty, wisdom, deference, planning, fairness, control, and, of course, adversity and resilience. Although I have much to learn about the other virtues I list, I have struggled particularly with my response to adversity.


Victoria and I haven’t made a day of it since at least last summer. Today we went to the Phillips Collection as well as the Nationals game. Things started ominously. The Metro station we drove to was closed, and the notice on the gate informed us that the other nearby stations were also closed for the weekend. So we drove into town instead, and the promised rain materialized. I also had to overcome my anticipation of exasperation over finding parking in the District. As we drove by the gallery, the rain had stopped, and someone relinquished to us her street parking space right against the building.

Like the Phillips’s web site, the Nationals’ site discourages driving. But, after a quick downpour just as we arrived, we found easy parking there as well. Reflecting on how quickly I’ll change plans based on a dire weather forecast, I marveled at the big crowd that developed. The rain held off for the entire game. Jesus, I remembered, said that the Roman soldier he had been talking with had more faith than anyone he had met in Israel.

When life or other people offer resistance, I will often listen to old tapes that I should have discarded long ago, such as, “You’ll never succeed,” “You’re a loser,” and “Things won’t work out.” My faith, I figure, isn’t what I say I believe but what my actions show I believe. So while I profess faith in Christ, I’ve been more of an unbeliever than many dear atheists I know. Or, one might say, I’m a man of great faith in my old tapes.

Zimmerman’s mechanics issue is too unfathomable for me to relate to, although I did relate to him today, standing there against the scuff marks he had kicked into the clay between second and third. But I was primarily projecting my own struggles onto Strasburg. Why do some pitchers struggle to pick it back up after an error extends an inning? What tapes is Strasburg playing in his mind? “Your teammates are going to let you down.” “You have great stats, but you don’t win games.” Who knows. He might not even be aware of them yet. Anyway, there’s a cottage industry around here of managers, coaches, and fans trying to help Strasburg figure it out.


But isn’t Strasburg like so many of us: lots of potential but not overbrimming with confidence? And he’s under the added pressure of a large audience that he, admittedly, is paid handsomely to serve as a projection screen for. Some of my favorite Bible passages suggest that we’re playing before large audiences, too, though these audiences have better things to project than I do. Paul says that all nature is cheering us on, waiting for us to realize who we are — sons of God. And God answered Elisha’s prayer to reveal to his young companion the heavenly army surrounding the enemy army that was surrounding the two of them.

Today’s game’s biggest thrill came in the top of the same fifth inning when a Cub runner was tagged out trying to stretch his double into a triple. Outfielder Roger “The Shark” Bernadina, replacing the injured Jason Werth, fired a direct hit to the second baseman, who relayed the ball to Zimmerman just in time for the latter to tag the runner out. But Zimmerman made his error on the very next play.


The moment & the museum

Fun to find Stuart’s post on Hydragenic just now, part of which is below:

If I frame and capture something without conscious plagiarism, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s been done before. The uniqueness is in the moment and the relationship.

I’d argue that distinctiveness and consistency are more desirable. Cumulative weight adds gravity, complexity and resonance. All leaves are singular, but a tree gives them purpose.

Stuart distinguishes between the artist’s act (intent and the moment’s art) and the result (objective “art”). In my post last night (Music on paper), I distinguish between Homer (as he’s been defined since the 60’s) and the modern writer. But I think we arrive at the same place: plagiarism and copyright rules try to protect artists at the expense of art and culture.

Music on paper

If Homer was really a poet’s guild reciting and refining a couple of great tales over centuries — a notion popularized in the 1960’s, and a notion that I’ve latched onto — then are we writing anything that way today?

Copyright laws and plagiarism rules keep us from improving on our forebears’ work. Yet nothing comes from nothing. Or nothing much.

Survey courses, maybe all of literary criticism, are attempts to hear a chorus instead of a simple series of solos. So instead of Homer, we hear Cleanth Brooks, Claude Levi-Strauss, etc. We hear music on paper.

Reading two or three novels at once is my single stand against this dark side of intellectual property law. When my simple mind conflates the characters and plots, and even the tones and themes, I feel like one of Zeus’ eagles sent to soar over the assembly.